Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20)


The Hebrew University’s Minerva Center runs seminars, conferences and workshops to promote human rights * Sigall Horowitz, director of the Transitional Justice project, tells us about the latest conference * Tomer Haramati, a past participant in the transitional justice workshop, shares his unique experiences in Rwanda and Tanzania in a project run by the Minerva Center.

At the end of November 2012, the Minerva Center for Human Rights at the Hebrew University held a three-day conference on the subject of transitional justice, one of its areas of expertise. Sigall Horowitz, a doctorate student and teaching fellow in the faculty, is the director of the center’s Transitional Justice project and a research fellow in a project on effective international adjudication. Horowitz explains: “Transitional justice examines the legal approaches and the social non-legal approaches by which societies cope with past injustices in order to ensure a future of peace, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human lives.” The field relates to societies in transition from conflict or dictatorship that seek to move toward peace or democracy while addressing their past.



The conference examined the question as to how transitional justice is applied in a democracy, leads to democracy or encourages a return to democracy, and what tensions are encountered in these processes. Thirty experts from around the world attended the conference, including Dr. Tomer Brody, Dr. Guy Pessach and Professor Ruti Teitel ( a guest lecturer at the faculty this year). Among other issues, the conference discussed aspects of transitional justice in the Israeli context. In her lecture, Horowitz mentioned the official commission of inquiry to investigate the events of 2000 (the “Or Commission”) as an example of various mechanisms of transitional justice that have been applied in Israel.



“The Or Commission had individual objectives relating to personal liability, i.e. who attacked and why, but it also had broader social objectives, including recognition of the victims and the restitution of justice.” Horowitz explains that these broader objectives relate to the concept of transitional justice. The Minerva Center organizes numerous conferences in order to expose students to the issue and to expose the issue to the general public in Israel and the relevant international community. “This is an interdisciplinary field that also touches on international relations, political sciences and other disciplines,” Horowitz emphasizes. “People came from around the world to attend the conference, which was a serious and professional event.”

In addition to its impressive conferences, the Minerva Center also organizes seminars for the general public and workshops for faculty students. Each workshop focuses on a particular region of the world. Tomer Haramati, 28, a fourth-year law student, participated in a workshop two years ago on the subject of transitional justice in Rwanda. The workshop included 14 sessions and a ten-day tour of Rwanda and Tanzania. “On the academic level, the workshop exposed me to a fascinating new field. We aren’t used to thinking about law as a tool for promoting broad social values such as peace and reconciliation. You don’t really think about that as a law student, and this was something the appealed to me.”



The highpoint of the workshop was the tour, which included an examination of Rwanda as a case study. “Rwanda suffered an enormous disaster, and we were astonished by what they have achieved since,” Tomer relates. The civil war in Rwanda in 1994 included mass genocide that killed hundreds of thousands of people. “The situation in Rwanda is extreme, and accordingly the solutions are very broad based. The mechanisms of transitional justice have led people who murdered their neighbors to stand before their victims’ relatives,” Tomer adds. 


The “Gacaca” Courts – Social Healing


One of the main examples of a mechanism for transitional justice is the gacaca, a community court used to try defendants accused of genocide. The Rwandans took the brave but controversial decision that any person who played an active role in genocide was to be brought for trial. “This is a very extreme example of individual liability,” Tomer explains. “The result was that in a relatively small country with some 11 million inhabitants, hundreds of thousands of people had to be put on trial. It sounds impossible, but they managed to achieve it by the sophisticated use of community courts.” Tomer describes a situation whereby the entire village sits on the grass listening to evidence, hears the victim and the assailants, and reaches its verdict. People from different ethnic groups cooperated in a project that included the entire community. “Apart from the fact that this is an effective way to prosecute a large number of individuals, it also led to a kind of social healing. The prosecution did not come from above, from an international tribunal, but from the community itself,” Tomer emphasizes. This type of process can have far-reaching individual consequences. A person who was a victim is asked to forgive another person who murdered his family, or to live alongside him in the same village. This is obviously a demanding process: “It asks a lot of a society and of its individual members. We were astonished by the full complexity of this process,” Tomer recalls. This type of process inevitably creates tension between the international tribunal and the means of adjudication implemented in Rwanda: “



"People who underwent terrible abuses declare that they want to move forward. it demands a very high personal price"








There are advantages in a situation where an international tribunal prosecutes some defendants, but the difficulty relates to the broader processes they are trying to promote,” Tomer notes. “If the ultimate goal is to bring society to a better place, then the judging need not necessarily be undertaken by an international tribunal.” During the tour, the group also visited the international tribunal in Tanzania. “It was very interesting to see how the tribunal workers and to see the representatives of the international community meeting to rule on cases,” Tomer notes. “This conveys a clear message, not only that the person has done something wrong, but that the international community has come in to declare that their actions are unacceptable.” Tomer heard the closing speech in one trial that had lasted for 11 years. “The man was a member of the ruling party that committed genocide and one of the main offenders responsible for the murder,” he emphasizes. “He made a closing speech on the subject of peace and reconciliation, which created a very strange situation for the Rwandans who had come to the trial and had seen the man’s earlier actions.”


The TIJ Mechanism – Rehabilitative Punishment

Some 20 years after the genocide, most of the offenders have been prosecuted and some are serving prison sentences. Tomer continues: “Another amazing thing we saw was punishment for the purpose of rehabilitation.” The Rwandans soon reached the conclusion that it was pointless imprisoning all the offenders, which would also have been impossibly expensive. “So they reached an arrangement where, instead of spending time in prison, people could be placed in other programs, provided they admitted their guilt. This was another mechanisms designed to encourage recognition of the crimes within society.” One of these rehabilitation frameworks is TIJ, which involves community service such as building roads and schools. “Our meeting with a TIJ group was one of the most meaningful experiences during the tour,” Tomer relates. The students met the group after they had already visited the areas affected by the genocide. “We came to the meeting with the TIJ group in a very charged emotional state. We were shattered by what we saw – simple, ordinary people. You look at them and don’t know what to feel – hatred or pity.” Tomer’s impression was that “they don’t even know why they did it. They don’t look like the sort of people you would imagine would commit premeditated murder. They look haunted.”




"We tend to focus on the victims, but there is society as a whole, and the people who took part in the genocide are also part of society"








Tomer describes intense emotions that cannot be encountered in a classroom. “The direct personal contact makes you realize how complex these situations are. We tend to focus on the victims, but in the final analysis there is society as a whole, and the people who took part in the genocide are also part of society.” 


How do you move on from that kind of experience?

“I think we came out of it overwhelmed. The question now is what to do and how to do it. As complex as the situation is in Rwanda, at least we could see that something is working there. Twenty years ago no-one thought the country had a chance of recovery. What happened there was one of the worst crimes in history, but despite all the problems you can see that the country is functioning. Rwanda has one of the leading economies in Africa, the majority of its members of parliament are women, and it is at a very advanced stage of the process of reconciliation. People who underwent terrible abuses declare that they want to move forward – even if they don’t want to forgive, they realize that they have to. Even if they don’t want to see someone who committed crimes, there is no alternative. They accept it, even though it demands a very high personal price.” For Tomer, the tour was a profoundly personal experience. “They invested a lot of resources in this tour and it gives you a great deal on the personal level. I hope I will be able to apply this in the positions I fill in the future.” 


"We were shattered by what we saw – simple, ordinary people. You look at them and don’t know what to feel – hatred or pity"